Let me introduce you to my friend, Lewis Dimmick. Back in the olden days, although we lived barely two miles from one another on Staten Island, Lew and I first started communicating through the mail (yes the actual mail, with stamps and everything), trading tapes and hardcore flyers. We finally ran into each other at a local record store (Our Music Center) around 1987 and have been close friends ever since. Lew has been involved in the underground music scene for decades and has played in bands such as Our Gang, Sleeper (pre- Serpico), Gutwrench, and My Rifle. He is a published author and professor and has recently started drawing. I thought that No Echo was a good place to let Lew have the spotlight for a bit. Enjoy!
Please introduce yourself, and give us a little background on what you’re up to lately.
My name is Lewis Dimmick. Lately I’m teaching classes in composition at The College of Staten Island, writing a book, reading a lot, drawing when I can, and when I can teaching myself to tattoo by hand (without the aid of electricity).
Before we get into talking about hardcore, what was it like growing up Lew?
I was born in Brooklyn but moved to Staten Island at the age of one. My father was ill and died two weeks after I turned five. My mother raised my older sister and me in an apartment building in South Beach, Staten Island, beside the Verrazano, uphill from Lower New York Bay. A few minutes walk and I was standing on the beach. It might be true that the sand was littered with used needles and condoms, but it was home and I never imagined having a better one. We were poor, but not desperately. I was loved and felt happy.
Did music play any role in your home while you were growing up?
My mother had records by Barry Manilow and Neil Diamond, and I do remember being taken in by the melodies and the mysterious feelings melodies can inspire. My sister and her friends were rockers and I became aware of their music but don’t think I fell in love with it right away. I was more intrigued, and would say I felt a sense of belonging to that harder sound, which seemed a natural soundtrack to my life, the polluted beach, our filthy building. I wouldn’t have described it that way back then, but I think all those elements fell into place.
What was the band or song or record that you identify with as the one that turned the tides for you? What made you love music?
It would have to be “Hells Bells” by AC/DC. In 1980, when I was 10, my sister bought me a handheld tape recorder and the Back In Black cassette. It was an enormous gift. I remember very clearly the rhythmic bells leading into the guitar, the melody of the riff, the rest of the band kicking in, the power and groove.
Give us an idea of your musical taste timeline.. where’d it start? How did it develop over time?
I think I stayed focused on AC/DC for a while. My sister had Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap on vinyl and this record fascinated me. I remember listening to it in her room. I had no idea what an Australian was. I only knew Bon Scott’s voice sounded strange.The music was sinister, which I liked. The cover had a group of people with their eyes blacked out. I like that too, the mystery. I was especially fascinated by the song “Big Balls.” It claimed that a female had big balls, which confused the hell out of me. Remember I was ten and it was 1980. Eventually, though I can’t remember how, I got my hands on Iron Maiden’s The Number of the Beast, which changed my life. My own discovery, not influenced by my sister. They became my favorite band. I was thirteen when Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All came out and that was incredible and brand new. My best friend, Hobi, had punk records in his apartment. His dad was a record collector. So in my early teens I also knew and loved Sex Pistols and Dead Kennedys.
I guess in 1984 or so I got Reagan Youth’s Youth Anthems for the New Order, to this day one of my favorite hardcore punk records, but I didn’t know about the scene in New York yet. My first concerts were in 1985. I saw Iron Maiden at Radio City Music Hall and Metallica at L’amour in consecutive weeks. After that I was at L’amour mostly every week: Slayer, Overkill, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax, Carnivore, S.O.D., even Murphy’s Law and Cro Mags. Early in 1986 Hobi (Klapuri) and I ventured to CBGB’s to see Straight Ahead. From then on it was our home. Hobi went to high school in the city and through some friends there he discovered Some Records. That was the most amazing discovery, finding records by Youth of Today, Crippled Youth, Underdog, Token Entry. We were now, at 15, part of an underground scene, the NYHC scene, and itching to make our own band.
Including any musical genre, what's your Top 10 (record/demo) list?
In no particular order:
- Bad Brains — ROIR cassette
- Minor Threat — "Red" LP
- Reagan Youth —Youth Anthems for the New Order
- Agnostic Front — Victim in Pain
- Straight Ahead — Breakaway
- NYC Mayhem — Violence demo
- Nuclear Assault — Live Suffer Die demo
- Overkill — Power in Black demo
- Motörhead— Ace of Spades
- Motörhead — No Sleep ’til Hammersmith
What do you find yourself listening to lately?
Right now the new High on Fire [Electric Messiah], recently the latest by Graveyard [Peace] and Corrosion of Conformity [No Cross No Crown], and bands like Red Fang, Big Business, American Sharks. More on the metal side, and more on the “stoner” side of that.
Do you remember when and why you started playing an instrument, and what were your main influences?
I started playing an instrument specifically to start a hardcore band. Songs by Underdog, Token Entry, Youth of Today, and Warzone were some of the first songs I learned on guitar.
Tell us a little bit about your history in bands.
My first band was Our Gang, which lasted from 1987 to 1989. I was also in a side band at that time, True Colors. Then I was in two bands, Gutwrench, and Sleeper, each lasting about a year. In 2011 I did a recording project called My Rifle. It had me and Hobi (Klapuri) from Our Gang on bass and guitar, Jay (O’Toole) from Life's Blood on vocals and Andy (Guida) from Supertouch on drums.
Do you still have the itch to play?
I play the bass every night at home. It’s relaxing. As soon as I start, everything else leaves my mind. I don’t think I’ll ever be in another band though. I don’t have the itch to do that.
Who would be in your dream band and what would it sound like?
I have no dream band, but if I did, I guess it would sound like Motörhead from 1979 to 1982.
Tell us a bit about your work as a professor.
Sure, Mike. Well, I’ve been teaching college writing for over twenty years. It’s a challenging job. Teaching writing is different than teaching math or science. Students write about their lives for me, and they have unforgettable stories to tell. Inspiring, tragic. It’s a privilege to have access to all those stories. I also love introducing students to great poems and short stories, having conversations with them about things they are unlikely to discuss outside the classroom. It’s an interactive experience, so for that reason it’s a challenge. Every class has a different vibe. Some classes love to talk. Some classes love to stare at you as if you’re out of your mind.
Maybe they’ll let you back on the air at WSIA (the radio station at The College of Staten Island)!
Probably not, because you’ll come on the air with me again and mumble penis repeatedly into the microphone, resulting, once again, in my indefinite suspension [laughs]. Thanks buddy! (Author’s Note: Jeff Altieri (Enrage) sends me a picture of Lew’s Suspension letter every year on the date it was issued!)
Do any of your students know about your involvement in hardcore and punk?
Not really. On occasion, if I discuss music with a student, they might say they listen to hardcore, ask me what bands I like, and when I name a couple, Bad Brains, Minor Threat, they have never heard of them. I don’t know what they think hardcore is.
You’re also a writer. Is that something you were always passionate about, or did it just happen?
That passion developed in my early 20s. I was done being in bands by then. This was a new passion. I think writing is one of the most difficult things in the world to do well. It’s a million times harder than music. With music, the hardest part is getting along with people. Writing is a different story. You’re on your own. I prefer that.
How did your book, This Music, come to life?
I received an undergraduate degree in creative writing. Then a graduate degree in creative writing. In all that time, I never wrote about music. I tried writing short stories, poems. Years and years of learning, slowly getting better. Giving up, trying again. I don’t know why I suddenly decided to write about my experiences with music, discovering bands, starting a band, but when I did it was fun and came somewhat easily because I had so much to draw on. Still hard work. The book was 66 pages and I spent a year and half on it. Writing, revising, letting it sit. Writing, revising, letting it sit. As Ernest Hemingway said, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.” Initially, a lot of what you write is shit. You have to hang in there for a while before it becomes something good. You’re figuring out exactly what you want to say and how to say it. Anything that doesn’t help you in that cause has to be cut.
I’ve always known you to be a very private person. Your book This Music is very personal. Was it difficult to expose those feelings to the public?
Not at all. I guess the most personal stuff is about my father dying, how music came into my life and lifted me up. Honesty is essential to good writing. If you’re not willing to lay stuff on the line, you shouldn’t bother. If it’s boring, people will tune you right out.
Do you have anything in the works at the moment?
Another collection of short pieces, this time centered around the experience of losing my father when I was five, exploring those memories. It’s proving to be much harder than writing about music. I’ve been at it off and on for a few years. I sent you a version in progress. Since then I’ve already changed a lot. I’ll keep going until I’m done.
Yesterday we all received the tragic news that Todd Youth passed away. I remember you telling me that you and Todd were discussing the possibility of doing a book on his life. Did anything ever come of that ? Is there anything you’d like to say about Todd?
Not much ever came of it. I approached him with the idea in 2013. I wanted to write a book called Under 18, a short book focusing on Todd’s life in the hardcore scene from the age of 11 or 12, running away from home, being sent to reform school, playing in Warzone. I was especially interested in Warzone, his relationship with Raybeez. I was convinced it was a great idea for a book. He liked the idea, and over the next year or two we hung out briefly at a couple shows he was playing, did a couple phone interviews. I wrote two pieces from the conversations we had, but it would have taken tons more work to make a book out of it, and Todd seemed to always be in motion; he was hard to pin down for interviews.
Once Bloodclot started recording demos, and he was really excited about the new music he was making, he reached out to say we should do the book someday, but he was just getting started and you can only write your book once. I respected that, and we left it there. We kept in touch by text, and I saw him last when Fireburn played in Tompkins Square Park. We said a quick hello and then there was somewhere he needed to be, he would be back in a minute, but I didn’t see him again.
I have some funny stories. Like when we were sitting at a vegan restaurant in the city and he had just told me about the idea for forming Bloodclot, and swore me to secrecy. Minutes later someone came into the restaurant and recognized Todd. I remember being surprised and impressed with how friendly and outgoing Todd was with this stranger. Without hesitation he told the guy every last detail about Bloodclot I had just sworn never to tell a soul. So much for secrecy!
My favorite story is when Todd texted me asking me to call him and pretend I was his boss. He was arguing with his girlfriend and wanted to get out of the house. I had to pretend I was his boss and call him into work. I called and he picked up. “Hey, Todd,” I said, “it’s Joe,” or whatever the boss’s name was. “I need you to come into work.” “Oh, you do?” Todd answered. “I’ll be there in a little while.” “Ok,” I said. “See you later.” It was an enjoyably absurd moment.
I can’t say I knew him well, but I liked him. It’s sad to think I’ll never talk to him again, and it’s a shame to lose that kind of talent. I know he had struggled, and then he was doing better, and I’m troubled by the thought that he ended on hard times. It hasn’t been a week yet. I’m still shaking my head over it.
How did you get into drawing and who are your main artistic influences?
In 2015 I got tattooed for the first time. I did it as something fun for my girlfriend’s birthday. We both got one. Prior to that I had no special interest in tattooing. We got tattooed by Jon Clue at East Side Ink. The tattoos came out great and afterwards we hit a couple spots to eat and drink. The whole day was so much fun, it was hard not to want to do it again. A few months later I got tattooed by Jenna Bouma at East River Tattoo. I’d started to look at tattoo art online and when I saw hers it struck a chord: stripped down imagery, black ink only. Not overly technical, but with lots of soul. I identified with her style. In writing I want to do the same.
I found myself reading more about tattoo history, Japanese tattooing, classic American tattooing, skulls, hearts, daggers, pinups. I fell in love with the stuff. And it was inspiring to look at the old school tattoo flash, because it was plain to see that those artists couldn’t draw well. It was just like hardcore music, not about technical talent, but about heart and soul. Anyway, since I was a kid I always wanted to draw, so I tried again. I’ve been drawing a few years now and I’ve improved, but my main experience with drawing is frustration. That’s the truth. It’s gotten easier but it’s still hard. Every time I sit down to draw I feel like I’m trying to save myself from drowning.
Is it just a hobby or is it a creative or emotional release for you as well?
It’s both. It’s for fun and also makes me feel satisfied. Another artist I’ve been tattooed by is Yutaro Sakai, who currently works in London. He looked at my drawings online and shared some kind words with me, a pleasant surprise. Since then we’ve had several conversations about art which have helped my thinking tremendously. I’m so often frustrated by drawing. I asked him how often he’s happy with his work, how often he’s frustrated, and he answered that the pleasure he receives from making art is not in the finished product, but in the experience of focus and detachment he feels while making it. A huge shift in thinking for me. Well, he’s got a million times more talent than I do, but I get the point. If you’re not enjoying it, it’s a losing equation. The greatest reward is to enjoy it. And when I tell him he’s a million times more talented than me, he says as artists we are equal, so I feel lucky to have met such a positive influence.
Any parting words for the youth .. or the adults of today?
Yes! The greatest reward is to enjoy what you do. That outweighs any recognition you can receive for it.
Thank you, my brother.
Thanks, Mike, for 30 plus years of friendship, and for being a crazy-ass maniac who knows how to rock.